Jab and a Haircut – Two Bits

'Somebody' is now first-vaccinated, and 'somebody' has also been to the barbers. 

What a difference a week makes.

I feel a little bit like Basil Fawlty when he had a rare win off that horse. For once in my life, I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be. I know it won’t last long but, just for now, I’m one-up in the game and loving it. I want to snatch my feeling away from anyone who tries to grab it. 

“No,” I say, as I clutch it protectively to my heart, “This is mine.”

I never imagined that I’d be this far on by now. Perhaps it’s because I often think that I am younger than I actually am. I had it firmly in my head that the vaccine programme wouldn’t get to folk like me until sometime in late June or early July. Ireland, being a small country, has not been as quick to get loads of vaccines as our neighbours and friends have. So, I was pleased to see the process gain some momentum and was happy to wait my turn. Then, suddenly, two weeks ago, it was my turn to register and three days later I had my date.

Bit One - Jab

“Name?” The man in the high vis had a clipboard and was not afraid to use it. I told him my name.

He checked his sheet for a long time.

“You’re the last today,” he said. I was ten minutes early.

“Really?” I replied, deciding not to engage with him as to why it took him so bloody long to find me on his sheet if I was the only one left. I tipped him a wave, drove in, and parked up.

They were busy digging up the football pitch outside the hotel. I think they were making a car park out of it. It’s probably a useful metaphor for something-or-other but at the time I couldn’t be arsed to pursue it. Leave that one to Joni. I was here for one thing and one thing only.

Just because I was the last, I wasn’t alone. There was a queue in front of me to register and another queue beyond that. There were people behind me too, volunteers and car parking people who were getting their own jab. After the queue, which was speedy, I had to sit for a while in a little cubicle with two nice vaccinator women. They explained that, because it was near the end of the day, they were preparing the vials slower so that none would go to waste. That was fine with me. I was also formally asked if I was happy to be given the vaccine and they smiled when I said, without guile, that I was absolutely delighted. West of Ireland people tend to take their jabs and go home, I reckon. They don’t always express high emotion about it.

I’m left-handed so I got it in the right. I’ve always tried to give blood, when I’m allowed to, so I’m okay with needles, I think. I haven’t had too many, compared to other people I know and love. I touch wood after typing that, though I’m not in any way superstitious. Hang on while I… wave at that magpie… there!

The fifteen-minute sit-and-wait after the vaccine turned into a game of musical chairs because the rapidly emptying area was having its seating rearranged. I turned my chair one way to mimic what the staff were doing with all the other chairs and then I turned it back again when they changed their minds. It helped to pass the time.

And then I was part-one vaccinated. I felt a little high. I felt other things too, harder to describe. I felt sort of socially responsible if that makes sense. I felt less eased that I was now less likely to get the virus but much, much happier that I was doing my bit to help wipe out the darned thing. I felt like a brick in a big house that was trying hard to stay structurally strong and stable so that whole structure didn’t topple over.

I also felt prepared to feel a bit sick. I bought some Panadol and put them on the kitchen table where I could dive for them quickly. I didn’t get sick though, not even a sore arm. What I did get was grumpy. I was an exceptionally grumpy fecker for a few days. I actually think I still am. In the chipper last night, a woman was standing at the counter and waiting for her order that patently wasn’t ready yet. She was blocking my socially distant access to my own dinner. I shot her such a poisoned look that she fell back two full paces and apologised profusely. It seems I wasn’t just made grumpy by the vaccine; I was gifted temporary grumpy superpowers.

Better watch out, people.

Bit Two - Haircut

The next day was haircut day. I was a teenager in the decade when it was understood to be a kindness to the hairdresser to permit him to wash your hair. The narrative seemed to be that it provided a clean and pliable geography upon which the hair person could do their work. A part of me thinks it was a marketing ploy. Whatever it was, it’s a habit I’ve continued, waving the shampoo forward whenever I arrive. Even though a part of me thinks it’s a bit demeaning to all concerned.

Not in Covid Times though. Hairdressing needs to be a sparse and uncomplicated thing, in my view at least. So, I rolled up on Tuesday with a five-month head of hair that had been grossly over-washed. It was feather light, wispy, and buzzing with static electricity from the bottle of conditioner I had stolen from my wife.

Kieran the barber seemed relieved when I confirmed that I wanted ‘the usual’. I think people are coming back after months of follicle growth with notions of a new image and a photo of Jim Morrison in their back pocket. Not me. I just wanted a ‘Maxine Nightingale’; to get right back to where we started from.

If receiving the vaccine was transformative, getting the haircut was ten times more so. I left something quite murky and ill-fitting on the tiled barbershop floor, along with all that surprisingly grey hair. I caught sight of myself in a shop window as I walked back to work and, yes, I looked like a prat just like I always do. But it was a well-groomed prat. I could show a good face to world again and try to get on with things, carefully but well.

Reading back on this, I bet your own impressions of these things won't be vastly different from my own. There’s not much here that you won’t have lived yourself and felt yourself. But this is my diary, of sorts, and as your man Hamlet said, “Meet it is I set it down.”

Someday, in years to come, somebody might read over all these million words of mine and say, “Yeah, so bloody what?”

And that kind of makes it all worthwhile.

Grumpy, see?

Tattery Jack Welsh

I am become Tattery Jack Welch.

It’s an expression that my Mum used to use as she was trying to comb our hair back when we were kids. “Here he is, Tattery Jack Welch”. Sometimes, Tattery Jack would even progress from being a person to being a noun. “Your hair is all Tattery Jack Welch.”

Just in case a little clarification is needed: in Sligo, ‘Tatters’ had the peculiar usage of referring to tangles in hair. Those stick-together bits that had to be vigorously (and painfully) combed out. My sisters suffered a lot more than I did with this small affliction but I had my moments too. 

Who was he, this Jack Welch of yore, whose hair was such a darned mess? I sometimes wonder if he was a direct relative of mine. We did have some ‘Welch’s back there somewhere. More often, though, I think not. I think he was just another one of Mum’s generic name evocations that seemed to come out of nowhere but the dim past. “Here we are,” she used to say, “all together like Brown’s Cows.” Who Brown was, and why his cows formed such an iconic cohort, remains a pleasant mystery to me.

Looking it up on the Internet (it’s good, have you heard of it?) I find a traditional jig, from around the start of the last century, called Tatter Jack Welch and perhaps that, right there, is the genesis of Mum’s expression. Assuming that the tune name derives from the Irish language, then T’athair Jack Welsh translates as Father Jack Welsh (or Walsh), a priest obviously. But who was he and, more importantly, did he have tangled hair? Answers on a postcard.

Anyhow, regardless of who he was, that’s me now: Tattery Jack Welch reborn. With my good friends in Staunton’s Barbers reopening very soon, and my appointment booked, my hair is now as long as it ever has been or, most likely, ever will be. And, yes, I have tatters. I generally get them out by running my hand through my hair and tugging on them until my fingers break through but, for every one tatter I get, two more seem to appear. Shampoo, and a touch of whatever conditioner Trish leaves lying around, does the trick but it’s a temporary fix. I don’t wash my hair every day (who do you think I am, Farrah Fawcett Majors?) and so the tatters conspire and come back in force.

This ‘running fingers through hair to remove tatters’ lark means that I’ve come to look a bit like Beethoven (the composer, not the dog). Wild sticky-up hair shoots off in all directions. Sometimes I see other fellas going by and I say to myself, “The state of yer man, with that mad head of hair on him.” Then I remember I’m just the same myself, mad head on me.

I probably should have just got a set of clippers, months ago, and had a go at it myself but it’s a combination of two things; 1) I’m not brave enough and 2) I kind of like seeing how mad my hair will go. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t mind losing it and getting back to my normal ‘trim every 5 weeks routine’. But you know… look at me. I’m a wild fecker, a beast of a man, feral, untamed, unbending, feared and respected wherever he goes.

Bollocks, obviously.

I’m a middle-aged dude with a sore hand, an out-of-control head of hair, and a beard that needs considerably more attention than it’s currently getting. I look like a semi-respectable hobo and people sometimes cross the road to avoid me.

Sore hand? Oh yeah, I have this tendonitis thing going on where my thumb is constantly locking up. I think it’s to do with the funny way I grip a computer mouse. I also think the constant niggle of it is making me focus too much on myself and things I would normally ignore, like my stupid hair. I’m working on the thumb thing and it’s not too bad. But it is a reminder of how miserable it can be, to be in a little bit of pain a little bit of the time and a taste of how truly awful it must be, to be in a lot of pain a lot of the time. So, respect to those who must endure that. All the respect.

In the meantime, roll on Tuesday week, when I can get these Tattery Jack Welch’s all shorn off.

Everything will be completely back to normal after that.


Moral of the Story

For a change, let’s start with the moral of the story. Flip it all over, turn it all around. Why not? I think the moral of this story is that sometimes it’s a good thing to do something you don’t want to do.

Once upon a time, I did something I didn’t want to do, and it worked out okay. Strike that, it worked out great.

The year was 1986 and I didn’t want to go. No way, nuh huh, ‘didn’t fancy it, ‘wasn’t doing it, leave me alone.

It was Saturday and I had my weekend all planned out. I had been living in London for two years by then and I was well into my life there. Work hard all week, take it easier on the weekends whenever possible. I was never what you would call a ‘Party Animal’. (Somebody called me that at a party once and I threw them down the stairs, but that’s a tale for another day.) I liked a visit to the movies, maybe a bite to eat out somewhere. A pub visit, okay. Just, please, no parties.

There was a party that evening. Everybody was meeting in a pub down Borough High Street. ‘The George’, you might even know it. After that, there was going to be a party in a nurse’s flat right beside Guy’s Hospital.

I just wasn’t into it. I had plans; you see. I had got a free ticket from ‘Time Out’ for a free preview screening of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Leicester Square at 10.00am on Sunday morning. That was the plan. A quiet night in, on Saturday, then up early for a nice traffic-free drive into central London. Park down at Carlton House Terrace (there always seemed to be a parking space for me down there) then a leisurely stroll over to Leicester Square for the movie. A nice morning, requiring a fairly nice early night.

So, no party for me, no way. 'Not a party animal anyway, me.


I had the car, and I didn’t really drink. There were people in my household who really wanted to go to this party. And the going wasn’t even the problem. The ‘getting home’, however, therein lay the rub. So, I was cajoled and pleaded-with, begged, bribed, and bastardised (maybe not that last one).

“Okay, Okay. I’ll go.”

I reluctantly revised my plan. I could go, suffer the party until around two, round up the tipsy lads and hit back across the city to Ealing. A couple of hours sleep, and I could still make the free movie in town.


The George was packed. There was no comfort for me in it. I don’t like being in crowds like that. I don’t function too well. It was your typical ‘crowded room’. And, across that crowded room… there was a girl. She looked really cool. Who was she?

I don’t think we ever got talking in the pub. It was too crowded. But I was suddenly more motivated to go to the party afterward. I have a memory of walking through Guy’s A&E with a plastic bag full of cans which belonged to someone I’d never met. It was a long time ago; I don’t really know.

We got talking at the party, this girl and me. I gave her a lift home. I had a casette of 'One Trick Pony' by Paul Simon on the car stereo, and she knew all the words. The lads were in the back. She was staying in Hounslow, so I dropped her home. She was new in London and I asked if I could show her around a little some evening. She said, “How could I refuse such a kind offer?”

Thirty-five years later and she’s over there in the kitchen now, reading the Saturday paper which is spread out on the table. I’ll have to get off this computer soon as she wants to do some work on her essay. I never did get to that free preview screening of Little Shop of Horrors. Never mind, I saw it when it finally came out. She’s lovely.

I'd better wrap this up.

Perhaps that 'moral of the story' I gave you at the start wasn’t really the right one. Sometimes you have to follow the story all the way through to the end know what the real moral is. Maybe it isn’t as simple as just sometimes doing something you don’t want to do, although that still applies. I think, in this case, the moral of the story might be that we should never lose sight of the miracles that stay in our lives. The amazing things that are right there in front of us, all of the time. The things we are singularly gifted with and, without which, we would be simply adrift. I think that’s the real moral of this story.

It’s essay time, apparently.

I've got to go.